Hornworms are a popular feeder for many animals, but can leopard geckos eat hornworms too? What is the safe way to feed these worms to leos? Let’s find out all about feeding hornworms to leos
There are nearly 1200 hornworm species in the world, and about 120 of them reside in North America. These blue-green worms are an excellent feeder for many types of pets, and leopard geckos can certainly munch on them too.
In this article, we look more closely at how to feed hornworms to leopard geckos, the benefits, the things you need to be careful about, and much more. Stay tuned to learn all about feeding your leopard gecko hornworms.
Can Geckos Eat Hornworms?
Yep, Geckos love munching down on hornworms as much as they love any other worm. While some geckos might be picky eaters, in general, you can get a gecko to eat a hornworm in just a few tries.
Hornworms are a rather yummy and squishy treat for leopard geckos, and they are full of nutrients and a lot of moisture, which makes them a good snack for a change of diet.
Here’s a video of a leopard gecko named Senator munching down a large blue hornworm (and looking rather smug afterward):
Now that you know that, you might have several questions about them, for example: which hornworms to feed, what size, what color, how much to feed, when to feed, and so on. So, for the rest of the article, we are going to focus on those answers.
Can Crested Geckos Eat Hornworms?
Yes, a crested gecko can also eat hornworms. They are a lovely little snack to add to their usual diets, and you can add them once or twice every month. Hornworms are low on fat and contain no chitin, so they are perfect feeders for crested geckos.
Can Hatchling Leos Eat Hornworms?
Baby geckos and adult leopard geckos are very different in what kind of nutrients they need. They need more calcium in their diet, eat more often than adult geckos, and can only digest smaller bugs, not larger ones.
If you are feeding a baby leopard gecko, make sure that you give it food three to four times a day, and for the really hungry ones, add an extra meal on top.
But while you are doing this, the worms and other food that you give to the kiddos have to be small enough to go down their throat. They need to be able to digest what you are feeding them.
For example, if you are planning to give your baby gecko hornworms, make sure to give them the tiny ones, not the big ones that are almost about to become moths in a few days.
Here’s a small feeding chart that you can follow depending on how old your gecko is
|Small Hornworms||1-2 per feed. Once per week||NA||NA|
|Medium||NA||Once per feed. Twice a week||Once per feed. Twice a week|
|Large||A||1-2 per feed. Twice a week||2-3 per feed. Twice a week.|
Remember, baby geckos are super hungry from the get-go, and they are greedy as hell. You will have to control what they eat because they will put anything in their mouths.
Moreover, they need to feed much more often than adults because they metabolize food much more quickly.
Therefore, don’t give them big meals. Instead, feed them smaller hornworms, but more frequently. If you give them a larger hornworm by mistake, there are two dangers.
For one, the hornworm might get caught in the hatchlings’ tongues. Secondly, even if the babe gobbles it up, she is going to be super hungry once again pretty quickly.
Make sure you don’t buy hornworms in bulk. Hornworms grow up much quicker than geckos, so you would end up with a lot of big hornworms with no gecko to feed them to.
Can You Feed Hornworm Pupae to Leos?
The Pupa stage of the hornworm occurs after its larval stage and is the last stage before it turns into a moth. At this stage, the pupae start to become harder and bigger.
As long as the pupae are still not hard enough, it might be ok to feed it to your leo. But the moment you can feel hardness setting in, please don’t feed it.
Leo’s can eat pupae that are about 2.5 inches big. Anything bigger than that might end up choking them. And feeding a pupa to a baby or juvenile leo is an absolute no-no.
If you have bought some pupae from the market, make sure to treat them gently because they damage easily (because of the hardening). Feed them to your gecko one by one. Never put two or three into its habitat at once.
Are Hornworms Beneficial for Leopard Geckos?
Hornworms are about 85% moisture, 3% calcium, and 9% protein, and the rest is fat. They are one of the few feeder insects that have a high proportion of calcium in their bodies.
So if you are feeding your pet leopard gecko a hornworm, you are basically supplementing it with calcium which it cannot produce on its own.
This is a natural way of calcium supplementation instead of gut-loading your feeder insects. Hornworms also contain a good amount of phosphorus, so these worms are perfect for preventing bone diseases in geckos.
However, these bugs are not very high in protein content, so obviously, they cannot form the bulk of the diet. They are a nice occasional treat to have once in a while.
Apart from the nutritional aspect, here are a few more things that make hornworms good for leos:
- They don’t have any chitin in them. Leos can digest these worms easily.
- Leo’s can catch them easily. They move slowly and are brightly colored.
- The smaller hornworms are quite tiny and are perfect for both hatchlings and babies.
- They don’t have a lot of fat, so they don’t cause your leo to put on extra pounds.
- They are a good source of hydration.
Why Might You Not Want To Feed Hornworms to Your Leo?
There are reasons why you should think twice about making a hornworm m a regular habit for your leopard gecko.
- The protein content is a bit of a bummer. It’s much below what your leo needs.
- Hornworms are very expensive.
- Hornworms are short-lived (or rather, they become a moth quickly, so if you don’t move quickly, you will end up with a house full of moths.
- Leos love them too much. Your Leo might start rejecting other food once it gets hooked on hornworms.
- Hornworms don’t eat anything that can add calcium to their gut. So they can’t be gut loaded.
Lastly, don’t ever feed hornworms caught in the wild because they could have bacteria and fungus growing on them.
Do Leopard Geckos Like Hornworms?
Yes, they love the taste of hornworms! As we said earlier, leos tend to get addicted to the taste of hornworms and might start refusing other types of worms and insects.
That’s why it is particularly important to only feed these to them occasionally, as a treat. If you start giving your leo a lot of hornworms, it will only spell trouble.
Hornworms are not a good enough diet for geckos to live entirely on them. So if your leo gets addicted to them, it could affect their health.
In order to maintain a healthy balance, add other worms and insects to the Leo’s diet. Here are some tasty and healthy options for your leo:
- Dubia roaches
Geckos don’t need a lot of fat. Commercially available feeders like wax worms, super worms, and butter worms are often full of fat, so they are not the perfect diet for your leo. Adding 1-2 to their diet is fine, but it should not be a staple food.
The best policy is to mix up all of these food sources and feed them to the leo rotationally.
Feeding Hornworms to Leos: How To Do It
It’s easy for geckos to feed on hornworms. These insects are slow, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to catch them. Hornworms are 85% water, so they digest pretty easily. They also have no chitin.
The trick to adding hornworms to a gecko’s diet is to make sure that you also supplement the diet with other nutrients missing in these bugs. Here are some strategies on how you can do that.
Gut loading is a regular practice used to increase the nutritional level of insects and worms to make them a balanced diet. For example, hornworms are not rich in protein, so you feed them lots of protein as a part of their meal before giving them to your gecko to eat.
This makes sure that the necessary protein reaches the gecko’s body. The easiest way to do this is to start feeding these worms protein-rich foods about half a day before you plan to use them for feeding.
Unfortunately, hornworms typically prefer sweeter food options, such as tomato leaves, nightshade vegetables, tobacco leaves, and horsenettle. Therefore it’s quite hard to feed them protein-rich diets.
In any case, high-quality hornworms bought from a reputable source should have all the right nutrients already in them. So you can ignore gut-loading these worms.
One thing that hornworms do have plenty of is calcium. However, the calcium present in their bodies may not be enough for the needs of your leo, especially if it is a hatchling or a juvenile.
Another problem is that these lizards need Vitamin D3 to absorb calcium from food, which is another nutrient that you have to add to their diet separately.
If your leo does not have access to UV rays, you might like to add Vitamin D3 supplements to its diet, as otherwise, it can get Vitamin D deficiency.
The Calcium to Phosphorus (Ca:P) ratio of the food that you are giving to your gecko should not go beyond 2:1 under ideal conditions. Lastly, you should supplement hornworms with multivitamins, especially for hatchlings.
Since hornworms don’t contain a lot of vitamins, and it is difficult to gut load them, it is best to dust them with the necessary nutrients before feeding them to your leo.
All you need to do is to get hold of some multivitamin powder and roll your hornworms in it for a bit. Add them to a bag of the powder and gently shake it till they are covered with the stuff.
We hope we covered everything you wanted to know about feeding hornworms to your leopard gecko. These worms are an excellent source of calcium but are not that rich in protein, so you need to supplement them in other ways.
Moreover, it is best only to feed them as an occasional snack instead of feeding them regularly to your leo. Thank you for reading!
Over the years, our readers have sent us several emails on this topic. Please go through them below.
Letter 1 – Hornworm of Colvolvulus Hawkmoth from New Zealand
Subject: Unusual caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug: Whangarei Heads, Northland, New Zealand
Time: 03:35 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: We found this unusual caterpillar lying in the full sun on a walking track in about 27 degree heat. It appeared dead so tried flipping it over to help identify what it was and it objected by vigorously flipping itself back over not giving us a chance to see its underside. We decided to move it off the path and it curled itself onto a twig so that we could move it without touching it which enabled us to see its set of stumpy legs. We have never seen such a large caterpillar previously.
How you want your letter signed: Phil
This is a Hornworm, the larva of a Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae. The common name Hornworm refers to the prominent caudal horn that most members of the family possess. Hornworms are harmless to people. We will attempt a species identification for you.
Update: Thanks to Bostjan Dvorak, we are please to provide a Convolvulus Hawkmoth which is pictured on T.E.R.R.A.I.N.
Letter 2 – Hornworm from New Zealand
Subject: Large NZ caterpillar
Location: Langs Beach, Northland, New Zealand
February 16, 2014 1:40 pm
Hi, found this today at Langs Beach, Northland, NZ. 60 mm long, approx 8-10 mm wide. Smooth appearance, ridged but no hairs, grey green, with yellowish stripes in the underpart of it’s body and also leading to a distinctive pronounced spike at the “tail” end. It doesn’t correspond to any of the large NZ caterpillars I know of because of the lack of other colours.
This caterpillar is a Hornworm in the family Sphingidae. We are not certain of the species and we wish you had included a lateral view of the caterpillar. If you scroll down the page on the Adur Hawkmoths page, you will see an image of the Convolvulus Hawkmoth Caterpillar, Agrius convolvuli, that looks remarkably like your caterpillar. The image is from Corbyn Crescent, UK, but this is a very far ranging species that can be found in New Zealand and Australia. The Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic website has several drawings that illustrate the variability of the caterpillar coloration and markings, but more importantly, there is a map that shows New Zealand in the range. While we may not have the species correct, we can assure you that this Hornworm is in the family Sphingidae.
Thanks so much for your very prompt reply! I’m sure you’re right that it’s one or other of those. The one we saw looks pretty much like this (so far as I can tell from the website picture):
Interesting – we’ve never seen anything like it in NZ before (but then we’re complete novices on caterpillar identification!).
Kind regards, and thanks again.
In our opinion, your Hornworm is a different species than the one in the link you provided, however, both insects are in the same “pose” which may have acted as an influence for you. Again, a lateral view would be helpful for identification purposes.
Letter 3 – Hornworm from Australia
Location: South Eastern Australia
February 21, 2012 11:09 pm
Our cat found this caterpillar somewhere in our backyard and brought it to the door. We’ve never seen one like this before. We have a large vegetable garden so I assume that is where our cat found it. Are they poisonous to animals and is there a chance that there will be more of them? Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you
Signature: Paul & Cheryl
Dear Paul & Cheryl,
Before we even attempt your identification, which you can probably find on Butterfly House, we want to gush about the quality of your “Portrait of a Hornworm”, a truly stunning image. We needed to adjust the levels and we did crop rather severely, but the quality of the slight overexposure lent itself nicely to the rich saturated colors of the adjusted file and the blown out fashion style white background smacks a bit of Avedon. There are lots of links of Hornworms on Butterfly House, and we will tackle that task at a later time.
Identification courtesy of Bostjan Dvorak
What a great caterpillar! This is probably a Psilogramma menephron larva (or a P. increta one, or a closely related species from this genus). They feed on Oleaceae (like olive-tree, privet and ash) and Bignoniaceae (like trumpet-trees). This one is on its pupating march, with its colour already changed – looking for a suitable place to burrow into earth, and therefore wandering around. It is autumn now at Your latitude – it would be nice to know whether this species overwinters there for some months… (It can also pupate in an ice-cream box, filled with humid earth.) The pupa is very beautifully shaped, with an elegant proboscis case. The moth is grey, but very elegant too, and fast flying. – This is a migrating species, and the moths feed at night, hovering above flowers…
Best wishes from Berlin,
Letter 4 – Hornworm from Hawaii: Pink Spotted Hawkmoth or endangered and endemic Blackburns Sphinx???
Subject: Oahu Caterpillar
Location: Pearl Harbor, Oahu, HI
July 31, 2015 10:38 am
I can’t figure out what this caterpillar is, I’ve seen several on google that are close, but not exactly the same, the closest match I’ve seen was a caterpillar that’s indigenous to Europe.
I live on Oahu and this guy was hanging out on my fence- I only noticed him because my dog kept trying to eat him.
Any help would be great!
Signature: Deanna H.
This is a Hornworm, the caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth or Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae. According to the Sphingidae of Hawaii page, there are 13 known species in Hawaii, and your caterpillar does not match any of the images on the site, though several species do not include caterpillar images. It is possible that this is a newly introduced species since many plants and animals on Hawaii are not native. We will contact Bill Oehlke to see if he can provide any information.
Bill Oehlke Responds
Agrius cingulata with reduced brown along the diagonal stripes.
Please see if I can get permission to post.
Update from Bill Oehlke: August 28, 2016
I would not like to say that George is wrong. It could be Blackburn’s
Sphinx, but I still favour A. cingulata. For me I would have to see the adult
to make a final, totally confident judgement.
Unfortunately I do not think that is possible. Maybe over the next several
years someone else will capture a similar specimen, put it in a jar to
pupate and then will photograph the adult moth.
I look for blackburns to have a much darker anal horn, but perhaps that is a
Letter 5 – Hornworm from Australia
Location: Central coast of Australia
January 30, 2016 3:23 pm
I found what i think being a caterpillar this morning but don’t know what kind. Could you help me
Thanks for writing back that you are in Australia. This is a Hornworm in the family Sphingidae. We turned to Butterfly House where we identified your Hornworm as Theretra latreillii, a species with no common name. Unlike the individuals pictured there, your Hornworm has secondary white spots behind the primary oculi. Nature Love You pictures individuals with the additional white spots and provides the common name Pale Brown Hawk Moth.
Letter 6 – Hornworm from Australia is Psilogramma casuarinae
Subject: Australian Daintree Rainforest Caterpillar
Location: Daintree Rainforest, Queensland, Australia
April 6, 2016 2:32 am
G’day – we were touring the Daintree Rainforest and happened upon this lovely fellow chomping away at a ylang-ylang plant. We would love to know what he is. His horn was textured a bit strangely.
This impressive Hornworm is the caterpillar of a Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae. We believe we have correctly identified it as a species with no common name, Psilogramma casuarinae, thanks to the Butterfly House site where it states: “As well as the green form, there is also a brown form of the caterpillar (which usually still has areas of green on it). The coloration of both forms of the caterpillar look very striking, but when the caterpillar is on a Privet bush, the spacing of the stripes is about the same as that of the leaves, and the Caterpillar becomes very hard to see. This use of colour to hide is a form of camouflage.” Privet and Jasmine are listed as food plants, but Ylang Ylang is not. An image on FlickR is identified as an Australasian Privet Hawk Moth Caterpillar, though research we have done reserves that name for a different member of the genus, Psilogramma menephron, according to the Australian Museum.
Thanks so much – wish we could’ve seen the beautiful moth!
Thank you for identifying it for us,